Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Match Point

"Match Point" (Woody Allen, 2005) The box office was good for "Match Point," Allen's first hit in years, and one wonders why. The film is accomplished and assured, simple in execution but morally complex, one of those little Woody Allen morality puzzles that update the classics (in this case, "Crime and Punishment," as well as any number of "bad-boy makes good" novels, where all you need is a compromised conscience to make it in the world). The BBC put in money, so the locations are in Great Britain (it's good to get out of New York once in awhile). The actors are young and skew to a lower movie-going demographic (although except for Scarlett Johansson, the actors are not box-office draws)--but there are no "tunes" on the soundtrack, merely ironically chosen opera extracts sung by Caruso (complete with vinyl surface noise).

Allen considers it one of his best films.

Despite the accents and strange new territory, it's undeniably Allen-town with its chilly empty spaces pointedly deliberately composed, its couples colliding and splintering, an act of insanity out of the blue, and a late touch of magic that chills.

But it's one of those Allen movies where the literary seams show, his long empty corridors reverberating with the classics of the past informing his movie, with some of the echoes coming from his old Brooklyn haunts; I kept thinking that Chris Wilton, the slippery tennis pro (the only thing that's true about him is, surprisingly, he is a tennis pro!) reminded me of Leonard Zelig, the "human chameleon," who, in his insecurity, would conform to whatever group he was with, even physically changing to accomplish it. But more than the literary seams show. Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who plays Wilton, isn't a fast enough actor to make his sudden shifts of tone and snap-excuses sound credible; there needs to be an ad-libbed looseness to his answers, rather than the studied RADA responses Meyers provides. The rest of the cast play their parts as required: Brian Cox (always good), as Wilton's chief enabler; Matthew Goode (interesting to see him in this role after "Watchmen"--in this part, he's much snappier playing a member of the effete elite); Emily Mortimer, thanklessly perfect in a thankless role; Scarlett Johansson as the Victim of Fate, smart enough to know herself, but not know her role in the world.

So, what's different? Why this Woody Allen movie doing well, when the previous ones hadn't? Allen had been, piece by piece, removing the musty-Woody-Allen-tropes from his movies to no effect at the box office. What made this one different?

Then, it hit me.

There's no "Woody Allen" character in it. No stand-in's with comically stuttering neuroses. No "fools" that make a point. No sad clowns in the corner. This time, Woody Allen is behind the camera. For good.

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